Kairouan (al-Qairawan, القيروان) was founded in 670/50 AH by 'Uqba ibn Nafi, the Arab general in command of the Muslim conquest of North Africa. The principal monument in the city is the Great Mosque, also known as the mosque of Sidi 'Uqba after the general who founded it. The first mosque on the site was begun immediately after the Arab conquest and consisted of a square enclosure containing a courtyard and prayer hall or sanctuary. This first building was made of mud brick and had to be restored in 695. There was another major reconstruction in 724-43 when a minaret was added. The present minaret was added by the Aghlabids in 836. It is a giant three-tier structure built of baked bricks on a base of reused ashlar blocks. At present, the minaret stands on the north wall of the courtyard but in the ninth century, it would have been outside the mosque courtyard in a manner similar to the contemporary Abbasid mosques of Samarra.
The mosque took its present form from the major rebuilding which took place under the Aghlabids which was completed in 862. The present mosque enclosure forms a large rectangle measuring 125 by 85 m. The prayer hall is one-third of the mosque area and comprises seventeen aisles perpendicular to the qibla wall with another aisle parallel to the wall. Aghlabid modifications included the present mihrab, the dome in front of the mihrab and the minbar. The mihrab niche is lined with perforated marble panels decorated with vegetal designs. Surrounding the mihrab are a series of polychrome lustre tiles which are believed to have been imported from Baghdad. The dome covering the area in front of the mihrab is built of stone and rests on a drum supported by large shell-shaped squinches. The dome has a gadrooned form which internally takes the form of thin radiating ribs. The inside of the drum is circular and decorated with a series of sixteen blind niches and eight arched windows. The minbar is the oldest in existence and consists of a high staircase with a series of intricately carved panels on the side decorated with geometric and stylized vegetal designs. The present maqsura (screen) was added in restorations of the eleventh century. Further restorations were carried out in 1294 when the arches of the arcades were remodeled and the projecting portal of Bab Lalla Rayhana was added. Other Aghlabid monuments at Qairawan include the Mosque of the Three Gates, and the famous polygonal cisterns or artificial lakes. Outside Qairawan three satellite cities were established known as al-Abbasiya, Raqqada and Sabra al-Mansuriyya. Nothing remains of Abasiyya, although at Raqqada there are huge reservoirs and the remains of a large palace built of baked brick. Other cities with Aghlabid monuments include Tunis, Susa, Sfax and Monastir. In 1052 the city was enclosed with a crenellated brick wall which was extensively restored in the eighteenth century.
Ben Amor, Meriam. “English abstract of 'The History of Qairawan’s Culture and Civilisation from its Foundation till the Late Nineteenth Century'". Translated by Meriam Ben Amor. In Cities as Built and Lived Environments: Scholarship from Muslim Contexts, 1875 to 2011, by Aptin Khanbaghi, 132. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2014.
طويلي، أحمد. تاريخ القيروان الثقافي و الحضاري من الفتح إلى أواخر القرن التاسع عشر. تونس: الشركة التونسية للنشر و تنمية فنون الرسم، ٢٠٠١، ٢٢۳ص
Tawili, Ahmad. Tarikh al-Qayrawan al-Thaqafi wa-al-Hadari: min al-Fath ila Awakhir al-Qarn al-Tasiʻ ʻAshar. Tunis: Al-Sharikah al-Tunisiyyah lil-Nnashr wa Tanmiyyat Fnun al-Rasm, 2001, 223pp.
The History of Qairawan’s Culture and Civilisation from its Foundation till the Late Nineteenth Century
تاريخ القيروان الثقافي و الحضاري من الفتح الى أواخر القرن التاسع عشر
In a historical context, this book portrays the cultural and scientific growth of the city of Qairawan since its foundation in 670 till 1881 when the French protectorate started in Tunisia. The writer argues that Qairawan was not only a centre of learning frequented by students from the Maghreb, the Mashreq, and the Andalus, but also an important economic and commercial centre.
The book also deals with the lives and writings of a number of scholars and poets from Qairawan who excelled in the fields of arts and science, and who gained great fame in the Arabic and Muslim worlds, such as Asad ibn al-Furat, Sahnun, Ibn al-Jazzar, al-Husari, Ibn Rashiq, and Ibn Sharaf.
The author uses a simple language and a smooth style and includes some amusing stories and poems, which make the book easy and enjoyable to read. He also cites a considerable number of sources ranging from historical accounts to literary books and poetry collections. This makes the book an important reference for researchers to discover the rich stock of works written about Qairawan.
The book neglects the cultural aspects of Qairawan. For example, the writer does not give much attention to the architectural prosperity of the city, and this is reflected in the few pictures found in the book which represent the same monument: ‘Uqbah ibn Nafi‘ Mosque. He does not make any references to the cultural and scientific deterioration witnessed by Qairawan during the pre-protectorate decades. The author is specialised in literary studies and has focused more on the literary aspects.